Developers can build housing with no off-street parking in more areas of Seattle under legislation approved Monday. Landlords will also be able to rent parking to people who don’t live in their buildings, to better match parking supply with demand.
The Seattle City Council voted Monday to ease the city’s regulations on parking, allowing more housing to be built without off-street parking and permitting landlords to rent their parking spaces to people who don’t live in the building.
Council members touted the changes, more than two years in the making, as small steps in the city’s quest to make housing more affordable and to shift people away from their cars and toward public transit.
Mayor Jenny Durkan said she would sign the legislation into law.
“With too many Seattle residents struggling with rising rents, we need to provide more housing,” Durkan said. “We also have to make frequent transit a reality, and we will continue to work with Metro to increase service on our most popular routes in neighborhoods across Seattle.”
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The legislation will allow residential and commercial building owners to rent their parking stalls to people who do not live or work in the building.
It will require landlords to “unbundle” the costs of parking from the costs of housing — allowing tenants to pay a lower rent if they forgo a parking spot.
And, perhaps most controversially, it will expand the areas of the city where developers do not have to build off-street parking to go along with housing.
Off-street parking currently is not required for housing built near “frequent transit service.” The legislation loosens the definition of “frequent transit service” and bases it on scheduled bus arrivals, not actual bus arrivals.
The bill does not bar any developers from building new parking. If developers think the market demands off-street parking, they can still build it. But, in more areas of the city, off-street parking will no longer be required.
The City Council passed the legislation 7-1, with Councilmember Lisa Herbold voting no. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was absent.
Council members rejected an amendment from Herbold that would have allowed the city to keep parking minimums, or otherwise mitigate the effects of new parking-free development, in a few areas with the least available parking.
The legislation continues a trend that’s been driven by City Council actions over the last decade or so: The city is requiring less parking in urban centers, and developers are building less.
In 2004, each new apartment came with an average of 1.5 parking spots. Last year, new apartments averaged just 0.6 parking spots.
In opposing the plan, Herbold said she’s seen no evidence of decreased car ownership to go with the decreased parking, and that the council was not considering gig economy workers — like Uber and Lyft drivers — who need their cars for work.
The legislation rests on 2015 research showing that about one-third of residential off-street parking is unused. Since parking is expensive to build — about $30,000 per stall — better matching parking demand with parking supply could bring down the cost of housing construction.
“An oversupply of cheap parking has a negative impact on Seattle — it increases driving and traffic congestion, increases our carbon footprint and makes housing more expensive,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson, the legislation’s sponsor. “What we’ve got here is a lot of parking and a lot of people looking for parking and this allows us to marry those two.”
Neighborhood groups, some of which have used the existing, vague definition of “frequent transit service” to block new developments, opposed the changes.
Just because people live near transit, they argued, does not necessarily mean they’re ditching their cars.
“I took the bus to work today, but my car did not vanish as a result of that,” Irene Wall, with the group Livable Phinney, told the council before Monday’s vote.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien framed the bill as part of the city’s larger battle to reduce carbon emissions, even if doing so causes some personal inconvenience.
“The work on climate we’re doing and protection of free on-street parking are mutually exclusive, we cannot do both,” O’Brien said.
“We have to figure out how as a community we make that transition to a carbon-free — and sometimes that means car-free — future, and it’s going to involve significantly hard decisions like this,” he said.